How to Fight Back When Your Sexual Privacy is Compromised Online
Finally, some good news for people who have been (or who have been anxious about becoming) victims of revenge porn! December 2015 marked the first time that a law specifically referencing and criminalizing revenge porn has been on the books in North Carolina. This addition to our legal system was added after an alarming case of privacy infringement occurred at Hough High School in Cornelius, NC. Authorities say that dozens of students had been blackmailed, and nearly a hundred nude photos were released.
Despite the law’s origins, it doesn’t only apply in cases related to minors. Breaking this law now constitutes as a felony offense, and is defined as “releasing explicit photos or videos of a person without their consent, with intent to harass, extort, or intimidate.” North Carolina is now one of twenty-six states with revenge porn laws, up from a mere sixteen at the start of 2014. We are also one of only six states that classify the non-consensual distribution of explicit materials as a felony. In most states, it is only classified as a misdemeanor (often jumping to a felony for a repeat offender).
Luckily, it’s not only lawmakers who are starting to see the need for these restrictions and ramifications. In the summer of 2014, Microsoft (including Bing, OneDrive, and Xbox Live) and Google created sites specifically dedicated to the anonymous reporting of revenge porn. Many other companies followed their lead during the rest of 2015, and have included privacy and harassment clauses in their community guidelines, as well as created anonymous reporting forms. Participating sites now include Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Pornhub, and Tumblr. This commitment, by some of the largest search engines and social media sites in use today, helps to combat one of the biggest issues that face victims of revenge porn: the daunting and near-impossible task of removing their stolen images from the Web.
By using the links and forms outlined by C. A. Goldberg PLLC, that focuses on Internet privacy and abuse, domestic violence, and sexual consent, victims can anonymously report images that have been posted without their consent. While these companies don’t have the ability to remove images from the Internet entirely, this new reporting system does render reported images unsearchable on their specific sites and search engines, giving some privacy and control back to victims.
Aside from the clearly frustrating, time-consuming, and often insurmountable tasks of legally pursuing a perpetrator and removing stolen images from the Internet, victims also have to face the endless barrage of stigma and blame that accompanies instances of revenge porn.
“Stop posing nude on camera” … “Don’t want nude photos leaked…don’t put ‘em on a computer!” … “make it harder for hackers to get nude pics… from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer” …
These are all things that were said online in response to the massive leak of nude photos of celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton on 4chan in mid-2014. These opinions are in no way a minority, and our culture is made up of countless arbitrary markers of appropriate behavior that excuse misogyny and sexually exploitative crimes such as revenge porn and rape. By suggesting that people can avoid being exploited by engaging in particular behaviors, our society holds up the idea that certain people are not deserving of protection and have no right to expect privacy or respect. These attitudes can be found everywhere, and take a toll on victims who may be struggling with severe feelings of guilt and self-blame. Even though there are more legal ramifications and avenues than ever before, it can still be incredibly difficult for victims to recover their sense of safety, trust, and feeling of control over their bodies and how they are viewed by the outside world.
**If you are ever a victim of revenge porn, it is important to remember that taking or owning explicit materials of yourself is not an invitation to have those materials stolen, reproduced, or uploaded to the Internet without your consent.**
Camille Zimmerman has been a Companion with the Center since 2013. She provides support and resources for survivors of sexual violence and is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill. Her other writings for the Center include an analysis of stalking in pop culture, a guide to supporting survivors, and a summary of global anti-violence campaigns.